Monday, February 26, 2018

A Reminder to Wring It

Author and Writer's Digest Contributing Editor, Elizabeth Sims, wrote a fantastic blog post, "Wringing Direct Experience," as a reminder to get everything we can from a direct experience:

"So what’s the point of this post?
1) To be alive to the vastness of experience.
2) To go after it.
3) To improve your abilities to extrapolate and synthesize. This is the piece of greatest importance for writers."

She uses her experience witnessing the inaugural test flight of Elon Musk's/SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket to provide not a blow-by-blow of the event but instead her impressions of that day. Her notes bring not only color, texture, and vitality to this huge, public moment but they also manage to ground it, to make it personal and real. 

As someone who struggles with anxiety and fear, I sometimes feel like I'm not getting out enough, not experiencing enough. I continue to try, to push, to challenge myself, but I still worry it impacts my writing. And, while it's true that it does to some extent, this post by Ms. Sims reminds me that creativity isn't necessarily about the big moments, the dramatic experiences. It's about paying attention. To everything. 

"The point is, there’s so much waiting for you that you don’t expect. Space shots are extraordinary, and not everybody gets a chance to see one. But lots of other stuff happens that you can get out for and find way more than what’s front and center. City council meetings. Climb that hill, just for kicks. Ballgames. Prune that cherry tree. The movies. The lumpy blanket in the back seat. The sound of the cork popping, the cookie crumbling, the cows coming home. The look on that woman’s face when her boyfriend whispers to her....

1)     Say yes.
2)     Write bits of it down.
3)     Draw it. Try.
4)     Say yes again.
5)     And again.
6)     Take everything with you as you set to work."

Time to pull out that new notebook - the one I bought at the beginning of the year and have yet to write in - and get to wringing and recording those moments, no matter how small, in the hopes my writing will deepen and grow, and my stories may even, in their own way, loom large on the page.  

*****

Are you good at paying attention to the smaller things? Do you record them somewhere, somehow? If you struggle with anxiety, do you ever worry it hinders your art, your creativity, your writing?  

23 comments:

Maria Zannini said...

I actually am good at finding the little stuff. When something big is happening I like to steal a moment and watch people's faces. I listen for the smallest sounds and take a deep breath to smell what's in the air.

Of course I won't do it too long-- I don't want to miss the big stuff either. :) But looking for the little stuff is a way of cementing the event into memory.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I love how you use different senses, Maria - sight, sound, smell.

And this phrase is great, too - "...cementing the event into memory."

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That's some good advice. It's our feelings transferred onto the page that will resonate with readers. Not the details.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Definitely good advice! I think our feelings are actually in the details - those small moments that WE notice that others might not.

Christine Rains said...

Fantastic advice! I don't write everything down, but thankfully I still have a good memory. I love picking out little details everywhere.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

It's funny because when I think about it, often the things I recall are details, impressions, sense memories, etc. even though I wasn't necessarily trying to remember them.

The Cynical Sailor said...

I’m good at paying attention to small details if they catch my attention. I’m a very curious person and generally can find something interesting even in things others might find mund.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

One person's mundane detail is another person's - a writer's! - interesting angle, character quirk, setting description, etc. :)

Tyrean Martinson said...

This is a great reminder to me to write down those small things. One of the favorite narrative essays I wrote in high school involved the slapping sounds the cards made when my grandparents played solitaire across from each other at their kitchen table while I watched cartoons in the other room. I think sometimes I chase down big plot ideas these days instead of slowing down and getting the most out of every tiny sip of experience. We don't have to climb mountains or jump off cliffs, we can find the best parts of every day.
BTW - your insecurities about getting out might be good to write about, unless they are too painful. I think a lot of people could relate and relatable writing is good writing, right?

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I love that detail about the slapping of the cards on the table. And hey, there's nothing wrong with those big plot ideas - just use those small details to add layers and textures. :)

Writing about my anxieties and fears in anything other than general terms isn't easy for me. I haven't had the best experience with people in my world being supportive or understanding or even nice about it. But I'll think about what you said. :)

J.H. Moncrieff said...

Sorry to hear you struggle with anxiety, Madeline. Many of my favorite people do, and it can be a rough road.

I do pay attention to everything. Rather than looking at my phone when I'm out somewhere, I listen to conversations (though not in a creepy way). I notice funny T-shirt slogans, the way spring slush can resemble mashed potatoes and gravy, how the reporter's eyes turned turquoise when the sunlight touched them.

The power of observation is one of the strongest tools we have.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Thanks, JH. The anxiety is not as bad for me as it is for others, but it's still a struggle. I manage it as best I can, try to push myself here and there, etc.

Love the description of the slush looking like mashed potatoes and gravy! I remember slush well but not fondly. :)

Loni Townsend said...

I hope recording those moments work for you! I don't have anxiety, but I suffer from seasonal depression. I hope you find techniques to help you through your anxiety.

I am both observant and oblivious in life. I can tell you almost anything about my family just based on things I see around the house--an empty container tells me what my husband had for dinner, a missing piece of gum says my son got into something he shouldn't have, my daughter's pursed lips says she wants something but isn't sure I'll okay it. However, outside of them? I really don't notice much.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I hope you have techniques for dealing with the seasonal depression. Mine seems to be all-weather.

I love how you're both observant and oblivious! The bit about the missing gum made me laugh. :)

Gina Gao said...

This is really great advice! I have mild anxiety, so I understand where you're coming from.


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Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I'm glad to hear the post/advice from Ms. Sims is speaking to so many of you. :)

Lee Lowery said...

Missing the small details is a direct result of this multi-tasking mindset that so annoys me. Notebooks. I have them everywhere, with bits scrawled as I think of them - my awesome daughter even gave me one of those waterproof notepads for the shower. The struggle is getting them altogether. I will never have notebooks that anyone could look at and make any sense of, like Agatha Christie's notebooks. Anxiety. I bought a couple of those Happy Lights to help with that. Turns out, a continuous loop of thunderstorms actually does more good for me. :-)

Shannon Lawrence said...

I do pay attention to the small things, but I think it's just a positive side effect of having ADHD! However, I also let my anxiety hold me back sometimes. I WANT to experience so many things, but I don't like crowds, for example, so I skip festivals and the like, even though I'm always interested.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I have one of those waterproof notebooks, too, courtesy of my husband. :)

It wouldn't matter if anyone managed to gather all of my notes and notebooks together - no one would be able to understand them anyway. I can barely read my own handwriting! :)

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I'm with you on the crowds. I find it's easier when I go places early - stores, restaurants, movies, etc. Even festivals, and those are usual outside so I feel like I can breathe anyway.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Thanks for the link to that post. Her list of launch day impressions are so evocative, I felt like I was right there with her. Great advice!

In some ways, I'm very unobservant, but in other ways, I notice things other people overlook. I think the details we share in our writing is what helps people relate to it, but I'm more inclined to focus on the relatable humanity of the characters than on what they do.

I'm sorry about the anxiety. I'm more on the disgustingly upbeat side, but I have my dark days, too. Unfortunately, when my mood is dark, so is my writing.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I loved her impressions, too.

I hear you about noticing things others often overlook. How many times have I said to my husband "Did you see/hear that?" And he just looks at me like I'm crazy - in a loving way, of course. :)

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Of course. :)